Raymond G. Perelman is 93 years old and still looking to the future, and because of that the University of Pennsylvania has just received the largest philanthropic gift in its 262-year history.
Perelman said he had been considering the consequences of the recently passed federal health-care legislation and decided there won't be enough doctors to service it. His $225 million gift is meant to have Penn educate more physicians.
On Wednesday, the office of Penn president Amy Gutmann was kept busy fielding phone calls from news media eager for an interview with Perelman.
"She said it was all over the news. Everyone wants an interview," Perelman said. "I'm happy as could be."
Perelman and his wife, Ruth, signed the paperwork Tuesday for the naming rights to Penn's School of Medicine. It will be known as the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
Though most known for their philanthropy to the arts in Philadelphia, the Perelmans said their new focus was health care.
Perelman was born in 1917 in Philadelphia and lived most of his life in the city, except for the few years when he relocated to North Carolina on behalf of the family manufacturing business. It was in North Carolina where he met Ruth. They will be married 70 years in June. They have two sons, Ronald and Jeffrey.
Perelman spoke on the phone Wednesday from his office in Bala Cynwyd. He owns and operates a company, Dicalite/Dicaperl Minerals Inc., that mines and processes perlite, a material used for ceiling tiles, as a filtering aid, and for enriching soil for farming. During most of his early career, he bought distressed companies, restructured them, and sold them for a profit.
"I come into the office every day," said Perelman, who lives with Ruth in a penthouse condo on Rittenhouse Square. "I don't go to Florida. . . . I keep active. I keep my wits about me. There's this saying, 'Use it or lose it.' I use my mind all day."
The Perelman name has been appearing with frequency on philanthropic projects in the region. Raymond and Ruth gave $6 million for the Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center, $15 million for the Perelman Building at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and $3 million for the Perelman Jewish Day School, with campuses in Lower Merion and Melrose Park.
They also have endowed a professorship of internal medicine at Penn for $3 million, and donated $25 million toward construction of the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine, also at Penn.
"I'm so proud of that building because of the compliments I got from it. I had one woman say she didn't mind getting sick, because she could go to the building," Perelman said.
Here is what Perelman had to say about his most recent gift and his philanthropy in general.
Question: How long were you talking with Penn and how did you arrive at the $225 million?
Answer: We negotiated for a year, and a number was agreed upon. When we first talked, I had no idea the value they would place on naming the medical school.
Q: Why are you focusing on health care with your philanthropy?
A: With the passage of the new health-care bill, health care will change in the United States, and I don't think they have done enough planning. There are not enough doctors, there are not enough hospital beds. I don't think the population in the United States knows what's going to happen.
We have the best health care in the world. . . . But if you have to care for another 32 million people and you don't plan for it, it will be a calamity. And so Penn is probably the best health-care system in the United States. I thought that we could take the school and expand it, bring in the best and the brightest, and make the best doctors in the world. This year they will graduate about 165 doctors. They will have to expand the school to graduate two or three times that number of doctors.
Q: Will the $225 million be used for new buildings?
A: No, it will not be for buildings. It will be for scholarships. To give opportunity to very capable and bright students who wouldn't be able to pay. The key is to get brilliant students into the system who will be brilliant doctors.
Q: Will there be restrictions on this gift and how will it be administered?
A: There are no restrictions. I'm relying on the people who run the medical system to get the best doctors out into the world. Research is a big part of it, too.
Q: Are there any diseases you would like researched?
A: I am leaving that up to the people who run the school. I've met a lot of these people.
Q: You obviously are a very wealthy man. Do you have any big gifts left?
A: I hope so. The answer is yes.
Q: What are some of your other philanthropic passions?
A: Right now I am focusing on medical care. It is very important at this point in time. . . . The [new health-care] law passed, and that is what they are going to do.